The Orange T-Shirt Event honoured former students at the site where Mt. Elgin Residential School once stood.
As the Healing Programs Coordinator for the Aboriginal Ministries Circle, I am often invited into Indigenous communities that are engaged in healing, cultural restoration, and community revitalization. Recently, Cynthia Tribe invited me to the Orange T-Shirt Event at Chippewa of the Thames First Nation in Muncey, Ontario.
Cynthia is the community’s librarian, and this event was related to her project, “Readings from the Mush Hole: Life at Indian Residential Schools,” which has received Healing Fund support. Here she is with Martha Albert, in front of a plaque naming residential school survivors including Martha.
The day began with a sunrise ceremony at the site where the Mt. Elgin Residential School had once stood. Now a monument there remembers former students from the surrounding areas, living and dead. The ceremony opened with a healing song and smudge and then individuals took turns telling their stories of survival and hope. I felt the sadness and I witnessed the tears but with tobacco in our hands, we prayed together for continued healing and then we released our prayer-filled tobacco into the sacred fire.
After the sunrise ceremony, I heard the school buses of children and youth arrive. Cynthia and her helpers stood ready to get the children and youth into their orange t-shirts. Teachers who escorted the kids from the school also helped by getting the kids lined up to place flowers at the monument. Soon the crowd was amass with community members wearing orange t-shirts.
During this active time, I met Martha’s grandson. As a residential school survivor, Martha may not have had access to her own grandparents and relatives the way he does today, so seeing the two of them together was a sign of hope and healing. Martha too has given a lot of her time to honour her fellow residential school survivors because she helped bring the residential school monument to the community.
When the children and youth were ready, the community gathered closely as they watched the children and youth walk up and gently place each flower in the monument. Cynthia told me that each flower represented a residential school survivor. Until that moment, I did not realize the significance of each flower that was there. I could not help but be reminded of the pain that my own family struggles with due to their experiences at residential school. It was evident that this healing initiative was very important, I saw the thoughtfulness, and care that Cynthia put in to ensuring everyone was safe to express his or her thoughts and feelings. I left the community feeling honoured to be part of their event and to witness their strength.
—Honarine Scott is Healing Programs Coordinator with the Aboriginal Ministries Circle